Sticky or clammy skin can be caused by a variety of problems, some of which require emergency medical care. The moistness of sticky skin is the result of sweating. Any number of things can cause you to sweat excessively, from shock or a heart attack to an infection or a panic attack. To relieve the clamminess, the underlying cause needs to be treated. If the cause seems life threatening, seek medical help right away.
Causes of Sticky Skin
Clammy, sticky, or moist skin may have any number of causes. However, there are several underlying causes that produce clammy skin that can be life threatening:
- Heart Conditions. A heart attack, heart failure, endocarditis (which is an infection in the heart), or structural damage in the heart may cause clamminess.
- Shock, caused by a heart problem, low blood volume, sepsis, an allergic reaction, or nerve damage, may produce sticky skin as a symptom.
- Hypoxemia. Low oxygen levels in the blood—which may be caused by a blocked airway, certain medications, pneumonia, a pulmonary embolism, emphysema, or heart defects—produces sticky, clammy skin.
- Internal bleeding may produce clammy skin.
- Heat exhaustion causes the skin to feel clammy and sticky to the touch.
- Bites from animals or insects can produce clammy skin from the pain, the shock, or the venom.
Many different types of infections, which may be treatable, produce fevers in the body as well as clammy skin:
- viral gastroenteritis (stomach flu)
- kidney infection
- valley fever
There are other common causes of sticky and clammy skin that do not necessarily require emergency treatment:
- Panic attacks can produce clamminess.
- Hypotension, or low blood pressure, can make your skin feel sticky.
- Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar levels, may also make your skin clammy.
- Hyperthyroidism, which refers to an overactive thyroid, causes clamminess. It is not life threatening unless the condition becomes severe quickly.
- Hyperhidrosis, or excessive sweating, can be treated.
- Menopause often results in sweating. Treatment for menopause can relieve this symptom and others.
There are also some less common causes of clammy skin:
- Chinese restaurant syndrome: Several decades ago, there were reports of certain reactions after eating Chinese food, including clamminess. The reactions were thought to have been caused by MSG, a food additive. Many restaurants no longer use it.
- Alcohol withdrawal syndrome: Alcoholics feel a variety of symptoms after suddenly stopping drinking, which include clammy or sticky skin.
Treatments for Sticky Skin
Treatment for clammy or sticky skin depends on the underlying cause. Emergency situations require immediate medical attention. This includes heart attacks, shock, heat exhaustion, internal bleeding, and venomous or severe bites.
Some of the infections that cause clamminess can be treated, such as those caused by bacteria. Others, like influenza and mononucleosis must simply run their course, although treatment for symptoms is possible with over the counter medications.
Other possible causes of clammy skin may be treatable, but require a diagnosis from your doctor. If you are experiencing sticky skin and you have no explanation for it, see your doctor.
When Sticky Skin Is an Emergency
Sticky, clammy skin can be a sign of a life-threatening condition. If you or someone near you is experiencing clamminess along with these other symptoms, seek medical attention immediately:
- chest pain
- a rapid heartbeat
- difficulty breathing or shallow breathing
- swelling in the mouth, face, or throat
- a weak pulse or a rapid pulse
- blue fingernails and lips
- loss of consciousness
Prognosis for Sticky Skin
Many of the causes of sticky skin are not life threatening and are treatable. Many infections run their course or can be cleared up with treatment, especially when caught early. Panic attack disorders can be treated with counseling and medication. Conditions like hypotension, hypoglycemia, hyperthyroidism, and menopause can be managed and symptoms reduced by lifestyle changes or medication.
When clammy skin is the result of a life-threatening incident, the outlook depends on reaction time and when emergency medical professionals can get to the victim. If treatment is administered in time for a heart attack, shock, bleeding, heat exhaustion, and bites, the victim can make a full recovery.